To Explore Strange New Worlds, To Seek Out New Life and New Civilizations

A friend caught a picture of me in the wild this weekend.

My spirit cave is a bookstore.
Or the library from Beauty and the Beast.

Walking into a bookstore is like turning off the outside world and getting caught in a current heading off into unknown territory. I’ll drift from shelf to shelf, trailing my hands along the spines, head tilted as I study the titles, getting lost in a procession of words and ideas. And if I can get physically lost, if the aisles are warrenlike and impossible to navigate, both because direction ceases to make sense and the walkways are littered with an effusion of books, I’ll just be all the happier.

I think it has something to do with the tradition of books, and book-collecting, and reading. We like to imagine scholars amidst veritable mountains of books, covering all available surfaces and transitioning from mere reading material to necessary furniture. Not to mention it just becomes a reality – if you like books, they’re going to be crammed into every available shelf space, as well as stacked on your floor, and lining your desk. If you’re me, you’ll also have them stuffed into the space between your mattress and bed frame for quick-draw late-night excursions. But the idea of having enough books to dominate all space, to have enough books to last a lifetime – this is Shangri-la. So the idea of a warren of books is not only a lit-nerd’s tizzy-inducing physical manifestation of a metaphor, but a trait that identifies a bookstore’s place in a long tradition of bibliophilia. It legitimizes a store, identifies its owners as true believers. (Bonus – it’s harder to extricate me from said warren.) 

Which is maybe why big box corporate bookstores feel like they’re missing something. There are plenty who espouse the community and superior selection and personality of independent bookstores, but since I don’t really go to events or chat up the staff, that never really made sense to me. How those things might be better for society at large doesn’t necessarily affect my personal experience of a bookstore. But I still like little indie shops crammed with books over big box stores. Big boxes are too easy to navigate, there’s no exploration involved.

When I got into a bookstore, 9 times out of 10, I’m setting out on a uncharted expedition, without a destination to reach or an objective to accomplish. There’s no immediate goals, no requirements to satisfy. Sometimes I walk away disappointed, but sometimes I emerge triumphant, ultimately elated at my finds. But usually, I gamble on something with a neat cover and maybe a few vague memories of something someone said to me about an author, and bank on discovery.

A Piñata at a Birthday Party in a Mental Hospital

A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital.

McSweeney’s is a veritable treasure trove of better/funnier writing than I can do and almost-productive procrastination (reading about writing is like the same thing as writing, right?)

Every time aspiring writers ask published writers how to get published, they repeat pretty much the same things, which are so simple, that they obviously can’t be true.

Read the full piece about these rules by Colin Nissan at McSweeney’s:
The Ultimate Guide To Writing Better Than You Normally Do